In a day where accessibility is forethought on the minds of all web designers and software programmers, there are still instances where sites and software applications fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, these instances do not go unnoticed, especially by advocates for people with disabilities. They’re suing companies with sites that fail to adhere to the legal accessibility requirements. The claim is that companies have a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible as brick and mortar stores. Over the next couple of years, an influx of cyber accessibility claims will come rolling in which will affect websites of all shapes and sizes, services and offerings. A Department of Justice investigation or lawsuit is just a touch or click away. The bar is extremely low. Plaintiffs can develop suits from the convenience of their homes and there is no need for costly inspections, expert witnesses, or research either. Advocacy groups have increased their efforts to compel businesses to comply and they’re winning cases or settling out of court. “Surf-by” lawsuits are so 2012.
The ADA’s main objective is to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs, and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services provided by private companies, and in commercial facilities. In 1996, the Department of Justice made the following statement “Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.”
The National Association for the Deaf and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) have a few recent victories. Mostly against giant firms like Hilton Worldwide, Schwab, Netflix, and Target have all settled when judges reject assertions that their websites are beyond the reach of the ADA. Ticketmaster, eBay, and Travelocity have worked with the NFB to make their sites better for the disabled. The ADA only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.
Government agencies are bound to follow web accessibility guidelines under Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. ADA and Section 508 compliance are slightly different. Section 508 is not part of the ADA. Section 508, simply, requires that when federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, information and data should be accessible to people with disabilities. It’s a little more complex than that, but a full explanation would be much longer than this blog would allow.
There are several ways to avoid becoming involved in cases of this type, but some of the most common fixes are just as simple as you would imagine: make your site navigable with only the keyboard, forms can be filled out without a mouse, close caption videos, use Alt Text for photos, and, moreover, PDF files and any type of downloadable file for that matter should be accessible through assistive technology.
Nearly all sites have ADA accessibility issues. When designing a website a modest effort goes a long way. A compliant site can be the difference between continuing with business as usual or business while also dealing with a lawsuit resulting loss of revenue, credibility, and future business. With the proliferation of litigation, businesses need to make compliance a requirement and budget around that fact.